Purvi Patel Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison for Death of Her Fetus

March 30, 2015
A court sketch of Purvi Patel, who was sentenced today after a court found her guilty of feticide and child neglect in the death of her fetus.
A court sketch of Purvi Patel, who was sentenced today after a court found her guilty of feticide and child neglect in the death of her fetus.

Earlier this month, I wrote about the story of Purvi Patel, the Indian American woman who faced feticide and child neglect charges in the loss of her late-term fetus. Patel was convicted in February of these charges when her fetus which was found dead in a dumpster after Patel went to the hospital suffering from a hemorrhage. The State argued that Patel took illegal drugs purchased overseas to induce an abortion, and that the abortion was only partially successful, leading to a live birth of the fetus which subsequently died.

However, no evidence that Patel ever purchased those drugs was ever uncovered. No trace amounts of drugs were found in the blood of either Patel or her fetus. The autopsy of the fetus relied upon an archaic test to conclude a live birth — a test that has been discredited in most of the medical and forensic profession.

Consistent with this evidence, Patel maintained that she hid her pregnancy due to cultural stigmas against pre-marital sex, and to protect the identity of the fetus’ father — a married co-worker. Patel maintained that although she contemplated purchasing abortion-inducing drugs, she never went ahead with the idea. Finally, Patel maintained that her fetus was lost by stillbirth, which occurs in 1 out of 160 pregnancies.

None of this mattered to the Indiana jury hearing the case against Patel. In February, a jury convicted Patel of the paradoxical charges of both feticide (the intentional death of a fetus) and child neglect (actions that lead to the death of an infant born alive).

Today, 33-year-old Purvi Patel was sentenced to 30 years in prison for child neglect, with 10 years suspended, and with an additional 6 years for feticide to be served concurrently; in total, Patel will serve 20 years in prison for what she continues to contend was the miscarriage death of her fetus.

Indiana passed its feticide law in 2012. Patel is only the second Indiana woman to face charges under this new State law; the woman before her was Bei Bei Shuai — also an Asian American immigrant woman — who was charged with feticide after a failed suicide attempt lead to the poisoning death of her fetus. In Mississippi, another woman of colour Rennie Gibbs, was convicted of feticide in the death of her fetus in 2006, which the State argued was related to her crack addiction.

In my post earlier this month, I asked how justice could look like laws passed that seem to weigh the life of an unborn fetus greater than the life of the woman carrying it; and how could justice look like those same laws being apparently used to disproportionately criminalize immigrant women and women of colour.

I continue to seek an answer to these questions.

The right of women to dictate their own reproductive health was clearly established in 1973 with the Roe v. Wade decision. Today, most Americans continue to support women’s right to choice. Yet, the Right’s expansive war on women and our reproductive freedom has clearly identified its first target: impoverished (oftentimes, immigrant) women of colour — those with the least power among us; those few care about; those most vulnerable to legal exploitation; those whose rights we acknowledge but are apathetic to defend.

My fellow mainstream feminists, how we can we continue to let this stand? How much longer will we allow disadvantaged women of colour to bear the brunt of the Right’s anti-feminist uprising, while we fail to acknowledge those deeply racialized tactics? How much longer will we continue to deny that this is not just a War on Women, but a War on Women of Colour?

As for the Asian American community, how much longer will we deprioritize feminism in our advocacy? On April 26, thousands of Chinese Americans are scheduled to engage in nationwide marches to defend the assertion that Asian Americans should share the same privilege of White police officers to shoot unarmed Black men with impunity; all this on the grounds that Asian Americans should not be criminalized disproportionate to Whites. Yet, how many of these Asian Americans have mobilized for Purvi Patel, or for Bei Bei Shuai before her?

Purvi Patel is the first woman in Indiana to be convicted and sentenced under the State’s new laws elevating fetal life over that of its mother. She will not be the last. Will we be surprised if the next is also a woman of colour?

Act Now! RH Reality Check — a reputable reproductive health organization and advocacy group — has partnered with Apna Ghar, an immigrant advocacy group dedicated to ending gender violance,  to set up a fund to receive donations to support Patel’s working class immigrant family; prior to her arrest, Patel was the primary breadwinner for her family. If you have some extra funds, please donate to the Patel family. (broken link) Please also sign the petition, and share the fundraising link and this post with your entire network.

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  • Matthew T. Walsh

    I’ve not moved the goalpost as you haven’t bothered to attempt to answer the challenge. Since you won’t be honest and show the whole statute I will. It reads in its entirety:

    Ind. Code § 35-42-1-6 : Indiana Code – Section 35-42-1-6:
    A person who knowingly or intentionally terminates a human pregnancy with an intention other than to produce a live birth or to remove a dead fetus commits feticide, a Class B felony. This section does not apply to an abortion performed in compliance with:
    (1) IC 16-34; or
    (2) IC 35-1-58.5 (before its repeal).
    As added by Acts 1979, P.L.153, SEC.3. Amended by P.L.2-1995, SEC.126; P.L.40-2009, SEC.1.

    First there is nothing here precluding a live birth.
    Secondly the word “intention” is used. Clearly the goal of the person terminating the pregnancy is the issue here and not the end result.

    There is no weasel wording happening here. It’s clear in black and white. The prosecution has only to convince the jury the intention was to end the pregnancy and the statute applies. A live born child from a failed abortion is then protected under neglect law. Without twisting or changing the meaning of the law both statutes can be applied.

  • mambocat

    In the U.S. you must have a prescription for a birth control pill, and most insurance companies will pay for it; but some won’t. I can’t think of an insurance company which will cover an abortion outside of a dead fetus or the mother’s life being at stake, and even that is rare. However, some women’s clinics fill birth control prescriptions on-site at very low cost. The U.S. is very draconian about women’s sexual lives. Abortion clinics in the US do not send any form in mailed information to the patient’s home. Due to the toxic atmosphere around the subject, they are very discreet about that.

  • SunlessNick

    “Since you won’t be honest”

    Huh. Haven’t you just been lecturing several people, with a personal attack in almost every post, about jumping to conclusions?

  • Matthew T. Walsh

    You deliberately skipped the part of the law that contradicts your statements. That’s called being dishonest.

  • @SunlessNick:disqus and @matthewtwalsh:disqus, I am traveling and am not able to monitor this thread as closely as I normally do, and am not planning on participating actively until I return. As such, I am relying on people to respect one another and this site’s comment policy. Please treat one another with courtesy and refrain from ad hominem attacks. Accusing one another of being dishonest or other interrogations of one another’s motivations rather than engaging raised points definitely count.

  • SunlessNick

    “Please treat one another with courtesy and refrain from ad hominem attacks.”

    You have my apologies for my side of that exchange, then.

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